Good for Tiki

Good for Tiki. He always was smarter than most jocks, so it makes perfect sense that this would be Tiki Barber's last season in the NFL.

Barber's on his way out because he has other talents to unveil and other challenges to explore. But he's also leaning toward retirement because Barber understands the dice roll every time he steps onto the field. He realizes each game could be his last, or at least his last healthy game. He sees his beautiful kids and his beautiful family and wants to maximize his time with them before it's too late.

Barber also is sharp enough to preserve his legacy without blemishing it. The NFL is a hard, nasty, unforgiving game. And that's just the stuff on the field. Players take cruel beatings on a weekly basis. They barely have shaken off the soreness, and sometimes haven't, when it's time to kick off again.

Barber has shown no signs of slowing down since turning 30. And yet all it takes is one hit or one wrong cut to change his career, and his life, forever. Then Barber will be half the player he is today, or a quarter, or get unceremoniously cut like every player when he can no longer help his team.

Barber is well beyond the typical shelf life of NFL players. He has a bunch of team records. What more does he have to prove to himself, to opponents, to fans? Nothing.

Barber's sense of timing has always been exquisite. He knows when to make the cut, when to follow blockers and when to strand them. Once more, his timing is impeccable.

I wish other athletes had the same vision, the same self-awareness. I wish Michael Jordan knew when to quit. Or Joe Namath or Orenthal James Simpson or Johnny Unitas or Willie Mays, still sadly remembered in part for hobbling around the outfield late in his career.

They were exposed by age because everyone is. But not everyone is smart enough to quit before they suddenly can't catch up to a fastball or outrun a linebacker or get by a defender to the basket. Pro athletes are some of the most arrogant people on the planet. They often are the last ones to see their skills erode.

But even the best athletes in the world slow down with age.

Not that fans will be terribly excited to see him go. Barber has been one of the top five backs in football three years running. He has represented the Giants proudly and passionately since being penciled in by so-called football experts as a third-down back out of Virginia a decade ago.

But even the craziest Giants fan should respect and appreciate Barber's decision. He is close to getting out of the game before the game kicks him out, and before he goes out on one of those golf carts. Good for Tiki.

Do the right thing

There may not be a team in the NFL with owners as fan-friendly as the Giants. Wellington Mara and Bob Tisch, who died weeks apart last season, were about as close to fans as multi-millionaire business owners could be. Their children have taken up the cause.

Now comes the chance for them to remind us just how much they care about their fans. How different they are from the faceless uncaring entrepreneurs who own professional ball teams.

Giants owners must, absolutely must, give fans the option of refunding their tickets for the Nov. 12 game against Chicago. The game, originally scheduled for 1 p.m., was moved to nighttime for television purposes.

Fans pony up small fortunes to see the Giants play eight home games a season. Surely there are 10,000 or so folks who would do almost anything to get their hands on those season tickets. But no matter how far demand exceeds supply, fans deserve a break every now and then.

The time change is a terrible inconvenience for fans that are already inconvenienced enough. Now they will get home at 1, 2, 3 o'clock Monday morning. You can't force fans to endure such nonsense.

Prices rise steadily. More and more games, even playoff games, are being played in cold darkness to accommodate TV. The Maras and Tischs should stand by their fans. Surely Wellington and Bob would approve of the gesture.

Fassel's become a fossil

There is almost always an NFL job for a former head coach. But you have to wonder if Jim Fassel will ever run a professional football team again.

That he was fired as Ravens offensive coordinator by old friend Brian Billick suggests Fassel has completely lost his touch as an NFL coach.

As quarterbacks coach, Fassel had the unenviable task of trying to turn Kyle Boller into a productive signal-caller. Fassel, and Boller, failed miserably. As offensive coordinator, Fassel couldn't get it done with Steve McNair running the show. Fassel had to have done a horrible job beyond belief to get canned by a buddy with the team sitting in first place in the AFC North at 4-2.

He had to have been worse even than the numbers suggested, which is pretty bad. The Ravens scored only 10 offensive touchdowns and were held to 16 points or fewer in half their games. They were ranked 28th in the league in offense.

Billick has assumed Fassel's duties. Sound familiar? Fassel did the same thing in-season to Sean Payton while Giants head coach. The only difference was that Payton finished the season.

Fassel was supposed to be a red-hot head-coaching candidate when the Giants fired him. But for whatever reason, he didn't catch on. Instead his buddy hired him and Payton got the head job in New Orleans.

Funny how things turn out, isn't it?

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